Launching a video game has become a challenge akin to launching a major feature film. Tons of money is invested up front, a release date is set, and gamers play.
One ambitious video game CEO, however, is taking a risk and turning this process on its head.
Cloud Imperium Games’ Chris Roberts is relying on crowdfuning to finance “Star Citizen.” Furthermore, players can pay for the game now, but but can’t play the entire thing just yet.
Already, as of Friday, the company had raised close to $US73 million to support more than 200 employees working internationally to produce Star Citizen from a base of about 758,000 players.
Crowdfunding is unorthodox, but it gives rare insight into the audience
Big, publicly-traded video game companies spend tens of millions of dollars marketing and testing out concepts, simultaneously trying to please investors and analysts with increasing R&D that is only outpaced by share price gains. Throw in many investors’ imperative to sell stock, and the factors going against even the best-capitalised gaming startups are enough to weigh down even the best rocketships.
Roberts isn’t just bucking the trends that have governed the video game industry’s ageing console-dependent business model — his company is also an example of how the crowdfunding business has the potential to disrupt the venture capital business model.
He launched Cloud Imperium Games’ Star Citizen via Kickstarter, and although he took in more than $US2 million via Kickstarter in 2012, the overwhelming majority of Star Citizen’s funding has come independently. Star Citizen is closing in on the $US75 million fundraising mark.
However, none of the 758,000 gamers that so eagerly signed up for its launch seem bothered a finished product won’t be on the market until 2016. It certainly doesn’t bother Roberts.
“I know we have an audience before we release the game,” he said. This something his corporate competitors rarely know, for certain, before committing millions in product development dollars for a new launch, or a sequel.
The game won’t be launched in one piece
Roberts’ has an unusual launch plan: he began taking donations in 2012, but will not launch an entire product until 2016. Instead of launching the game at once, Roberts and his team at Cloud Imperium Games will roll out segments of Star Citizen, one by one.
Right now, users can fly around in space and dogfight with other starships.
Star Citizen will introduce first-person combat in a matter of weeks. And later in 2015, a social element will emerge, where players can leave their interstellar garages and wander the landscapes of the planets on which they’re based.
The most mind-blowing parts of the game won’t come out for another year or so, though.
Then, players will be able to use “multi-crew” ships, just like Han Solo or Captain Kirk (don’t expect either IP-protected character to appear in Star Citizen, though) and individual players can have roles within a bigger ship — like pilot, or turret gunner.
“That’s a thing I wanted to do forever; that was one of by biggest drivers for Star Citizen,” Roberts said. “It’s a dream of a lot of people.”
The biggest crowdfunding campaign ever won’t produce anything until 2016
Beyond that, Roberts is ready to take on the galaxy. In 2016, players will be able to cruise through entire star systems and take ships on interplanetary voyages. This isn’t your 1990s flight-sim game, to be certain. Eventually, Star Citizen will be adapted for virtual reality headsets, which will mark a substantive enhancement for some of Roberts’ original gamers (the author, included) that enjoyed PC-based Wing Commander — another creation of Roberts’ — more than a decade ago.
“Having a virtual reality headset adds to that,” but “we’ve still got work to go.”
There are still bugs being ironed out, like making VR-views sync up to fast head pivots by the user.
Not much different from the upgrade charges billed to the most dedicated gamers by King Digital and Zynga, Star Citizen allows users to customise their ships and load up on guns and weaponry for interstellar battle. Users can also win credits.
The overwhelming majority of Roberts’ and Star Citizen’s backers didn’t make a big cash pledge. He indicated this was like an equity-based approach to video games.
“Most of the people we have, it is like they pre-bought the game,” he said. “Crowdfunding works best when people donate to something they want to see happen.”